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Outcry over surge in food prices

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MASERU – OPPOSITION parties in parliament this week urged the government to introduce subsidies after a surge in the cost of basic foodstuffs.

They said the cost of living in Lesotho is steadily becoming unbearable.

An 80kg bag of mealie-meal now costs a staggering M609, up from M500 last month while a 50kg bag of maize-meal now costs M410, up from M380.

A 25kg bag of maize-meal now costs M225, up from M190 while a 12.5kg bag has moved from M120 to M128.

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader Mathibeli Mokhothu, who is also the Leader of Opposition in parliament, tweeted on his official account urging the government to intervene.

“Could the government of the rich people be seen sympathizing with the poor people,” Mokhothu said, referring to the government of the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) which is led by the country’s business tycoons.

Mokhothu said apart from the high food and fuel prices coupled with high students’ fees, life keeps on getting harder for the poor.

The Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader, Advocate Lekhetho Rakuoane, pleaded with the government to subsidize the cost of food to cushion the poor.

He wrote a letter to the Speaker of Parliament Tlohang Sekhamane on Monday asking him to stop all business in parliament and focus on the issue of soaring prices.

Adv Rakuoane argued that there has been a hike in the price of maize-meal price since the harvest season.

He said this is abnormal because maize-meal prices usually go down during the harvesting season.

He said the government has not yet published its strategies or declared a state of emergency.

Adv Rakuoane said the continuing war between Ukraine and Russia seems to be worsening the situation that was already volatile.

“Hunger is spreading to the extent that people go to sleep and wake up without anything in their stomachs,” he said.

The Basotho Action Party (BAP) leader Professor Nqosa Mahao told a press conference on Tuesday that the price hikes are getting out of hand.

He called on the government to intervene. He said poor people’s lives are getting harder and harder every time.

Prof Mahao said the price hikes would affect Basotho negatively because paraffin and other essentials used by poor people have also gone up.

He said the staple food of Basotho is now becoming expensive to the extent that some people cannot afford it.

“The cost will be heavier on Basotho as the village shops would want to add their transportation costs,” Prof Mahao said.

He said taxi operators were likely to demand a fare hike soon.

Prof Mahao said even the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) has increased its prime lending interest rate making it harder for people to take loans.

The prime lending interest rate has ballooned from seven percent to 10.5 percent, meaning the commercial banks will also raise their interest rate which is estimated to be at 17 percent.

Both Blue Ribbon Foods, the country’s largest bakery, and Lesotho Flour Mills have already increased prices with effect from December 1.

In their new price lists, Blue Ribbon Foods said they will add M1 to all their bread range, taking the price of a loaf of bread to M15 in villages outside the city and M14 within Maseru.

In hard-to-reach rural areas a loaf of bread is likely to cost about M18.

The two companies said the industry is facing relentless challenges relating to raw material availability and unprecedented inflation.

The Lesotho Flour Mills’ new prices have been effective from November 14.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Limpho Tau said they are looking into the matter. Finance Minister Dr Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane is set to present her mid-term budget tomorrow.

Nkheli Liphoto

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World Bank pledges M2.1 billion to Lesotho

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MASERU – THE World Bank has pledged US$120 million (about M2.1 billion) for new projects in Lesotho for the coming year.

This revelation was made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Lejone Mpotjoane at a press conference in Maseru yesterday.

Mpotjoane said the World Bank will visit Lesotho in January to look into the issues of project management, public financial management, government accountability, contracts management and procurement management.

“The World Bank raised a concern that the implementation of the projects is slow and in most cases behind schedule,” Mpotjoane said.

This came after Lesotho’s delegation led by Prime Minister Sam Matekane attended the US-Africa leaders’ summit in Washington in the United States last week.

Mpotjoane said the Summit was held to discuss how heads of government, officials, business leaders, and civil society could strengthen ties between the US and
Africa.

“One of the important issues discussed at the summit included good governance, democracy, human rights and rule of law,” he said.

The summit also discussed mitigating the impact of Covid-19 and future pandemics and strengthening regional and global health, promoting food security, advancing peace and security, responding to the climate crisis and amplifying diasporaties.

Mpotjoane said the United States also pledged at least US$55 billion (about M935 billion) to Africa over the next three years, spanning across a range of diverse sectors.

“The US further pledged to lend up to US$21 million (about M493 million) through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for low and middle-income African countries,” Mpotjoane said.

He said the US Trade Representative signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat to support institutions to accelerate sustainable economic growth across Africa.

He said Matekane also met the Chief Executive Officer of the American Peace Corps, Thomas Peng.

He said the US had suspended its Peace Corps operations in Lesotho due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

And after the meeting, the Peace Corps has undertaken to send over 50 volunteers to Lesotho.

Mpotjoane said Matekane also met the World Bank Group Vice-President, Victoral Kwakwa.

He said during the meeting, Matekane and his delegation stressed the commitment of Lesotho to work with both the World Bank and IMF institutions as key bilateral and multilateral partners to get Lesotho on a sustainable broad-based and inclusive growth path.

He said Matekane also met the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Ron Wyden.

He said Matekane met the Chair of the Africa Sub-Committee, Senator Van Hollen, who was impressed to consider an extension of the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond 2025.

“The extension of AGOA will secure and create thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector,” Mpotjoane said.

Matekane last Saturday tweeted that the secretary general of AFCFTA fully supports and wants to be part of developmental activity for Africa.

“Lesotho delegation led by myself met with his team and discussed assistance of AFCFTA in some of Lesotho government’s development activity,” Matekane said.

Nkheli Liphoto

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Early Christmas for MMB clients

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MASERU – CHRISTMAS came early for two of Maluti Mountain Brewery (MMB)’s clients after they walked away with Nissan NP200 vehicles for promoting excellence in sales in their businesses.

The prize-giving ceremony was held in Maseru on Tuesday.

The MMB further distributed M1.5 million to its clients this year in a bid to increase its sales.

The winners of the two Nissan NP200 cars are Katleho Khuto, a tavern owner from Mohale’s Hoek, and Libe Mapane, an owner of an off-sales, who won in the gold category.

The silver category winner is ’Nokoane Rankhasa who runs an off-sales while in the bronze category the winner is Letšoala Letšoala, also running an off-sales.

Khuto said this was the first time he had participated in the competition.

He said he had been working hard to perform well in business.

“I am not only selling to clients in the tavern but I also deliver the stock to my clients,” he said.

He said this kind of business has the potential to grow.

“It just requires good capital and good customer service,” he said.

Khuto said the prize money will help him to stock his tavern.

“I have been hiring people’s cars. Therefore, this will help to minimize my costs,” he said.

The MMB Sales Manager, Pusetso Thoala, said this programme started last year.

He said due to the Covid-19 pandemic many businesses collapsed and they want to help them recover.

Thoala said due to Covid, they saw it befitting to include all kinds of businesses in this sector.

Then they decided to include taverns and shebeens in the competition since they take a bigger fraction in the industry.

Thoala said the competition seeks to motivate businesses in this sector to work hard.

He said if businesses work hard, this will increase more sales hence improving MMB operations.

“We are seeking to reach even the districts,” he said.

Last year MMB put aside M2.4 million for this competition with 800 business owners participating in the programme.

A staggering M793 000 was awarded to customers who exceeded targets.

“We are offering two cars this year,” he said.

Thoala said this year they will focus on helping a higher number of business owners with renovation projects.

Thoala said they have three categories being gold, silver and bronze where in the category of gold, they will be offering a Nissan MP200 car model.

MMB believes this will motivate business owners to increase their sales.

Thoala said this is not only benefiting MMB but also business owners due to increased profits.

A Mohale’s Hoek businessman who did not want to be mentioned said the competition was fair.

He said this kind of celebration should not only be about collecting the prizes but it should be used for networking between stakeholders as well.

He said he was expecting the business owners to be given a slot to discuss their challenges and strengths so that the sector could grow.

Refiloe Mpobole

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Sweets that clear your sore throat

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ROMA – WHEN you have a sore throat, maybe due to common cold, you allow these candies to melt in your mouth.

They are not just sweet, they are also soothing.

“That’s because we’ve got measured amounts of wild mint, honey and lemon in there,” said Joalane Mohale who produces these sweets at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Innovation Hub.

With these sweets, you clear your sore throat, fever and a cough.

The story starts in 2019 — in fact it starts earlier than that.

“That’s when my teammates and I were busy making and selling packaged teas out of various medicinal plants,” Mohale said.

Business was good.

People just loved their teas.

It is not surprising because the tea itself came in all kinds of versions.

The ingredients ranged from corn silk, to olives and mint, from Artemisia (lengana), to eucalyptus (boleikomo) and numerous other plants.

So people would come from all walks of life to tell them how the catalogue of teas they took to the markets was helping them.

One would say they assist with a headache, another would cite period pains, another would mention fever, flu, sore throats, all kinds of ailments.

It was something worth celebrating, with one exception.

These people were almost always adults.

There were simply no youths and children in the audience.

It dawned on Mohale that perhaps their products were not reaching the broader market.

What would they do?

“When we sat down and thought hard about it, we came to a conclusion that the way we delivered these soothing plants were simply not in the interest of the young.”

You hardly ever see young people sitting down and enjoying a cup of tea.

But we all know that they delight in munching sweets of all kinds.

So what if they used the same stuff they were putting in tea in the sweets?

It could be a brilliant idea.

So she started.

That was back in 2019.

The making of sweets might sound easy.

After all sweets are sweets, isn’t it?

She would soon learn what other seasoned manufacturers of anything have learned before her.

That manufacturing, no matter what it is you are manufacturing, is hard.

One experienced manufacturer likes to say “what people don’t seem to understand is that manufacturing is not so much about the product as it is about the process of making that product”.

The process, that’s the hard part.

But she tried it any way.

“I kept failing until I decided it was time to consult someone who was already in the business.”

The person consulted was ready to assist.

She opened up about what sweets really were.

She talked about different kinds of sweets and how each kind differed from another.

She told her that only certain kinds of sweets would be suitable for the kind of stuff she wanted to do.

She got back encouraged to try.

“You won’t believe it,” she said.

“Even with all that information, it would take another four months for me to be able to nail the sweets to my satisfaction.”

In the beginning, the sweets just collapsed a few days after being put together.

When she fixed that, then came another problem.

The sweets just went bad every two weeks or so.

She kept her experiments alive until she was able to solve the problems.

“One of the things I realised was the importance of accuracy,” she said.

“You have to be extremely accurate with measurements.”

You get a small thing wrong, the whole system collapses.

Among the ingredients in the sweets is a wild mint.

Basotho are known to have depended on wild mint to fight cold since time immemorial.

“Many would put it in their nostrils in times of flu or other stuff and it was celebrated for its effectiveness.”

Scientists have noted that mints can soothe upset stomach and ease colds, flu, fever, headaches, and sinus congestion.

Another candidate is honey—that magic food.

A CNN report says “researchers said honey was (found to be) more effective in relieving the symptoms of cold and flu-like illnesses than the usual commercial remedies”.

As if that was not enough already, she added lemon.

Listen to what some scientists have to say about lemon: “Lemons are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids that work together against flu and cold infections”.

Well, with the three in one, you are ready to munch your way out of most annoying flus and colds.

Good luck!

Own Correspondent

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